Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
This chapter describes a set of basic principles underlying the conceptual analysis presented in the remainder of the book. We describe the principles here abstractly, with examples and illustrations taken mostly from domains other than personality–social psychology. Our goal is to create a clear sense of the nature of particular processes (for a more detailed account see Clark, 1996) without pressing the argument that human behavior embodies them. We move on to that argument in due course.
CYBERNETICS, FEEDBACK, AND CONTROL
Wiener (1948) defined cybernetics as the science of communication and control. Cybernetics is one of several terms intertwined with one another – terms such as control processes, feedback processes, and servomechanisms (or servos). These terms have varying origins, they're used preferentially by different people in different lines of work, and they differ in shades of meaning. For our purposes, though, they refer to roughly the same things. Cybernetics is the science of feedback processes; feedback processes involve the control or regulation of certain values within a system (see also Ashby, 1961; Clark, 1996).
A negative feedback loop, the basic unit of cybernetic control, is a system of four elements in a particular kind of organization. The elements are an input function, a reference value, a comparator, and an output function (Figure 2.1). An input function is a sensor. It brings information into the loop. In later discussions we'll treat this input function as equivalent to perception.